Chef Life #2

So it’s been a month in the kitchen and I really though I’d have more to write about by now. For once, my laziness is only partly to blame for a lack of content – mostly it’s the fact that days spent making and buttering toast, assembling salads, and deep frying don’t make for entertaining reading.

For clarity’s sake, I don’t work in a shit hole like the above responsibilities make it sound. The restaurant is a popular, long standing local business, with a creative and interesting menu. It just happens that at breakfast, most people want eggs on toast and from 12pm onwards every fucker out there wants a bowl of fries.

This is probably the reason I’m working cold side during the day and not at night. I don’t know what cold side does at dinner and I am nowhere near qualified or trained to touch hot side even at breakfast. In the comfort of my own kitchen with only one person to judge my failures I can’t poach an egg let alone cook a steak medium-rare.

That said, almost anyone can throw bread in a toaster, slap batter into a waffle iron, cook oats (my demi-boss would disagree), dress leaves, and gingerly place halloumi on the flat grill so as not to burn themselves when it spits.

It’s the co-ordinating all of the above and more that’s the challenge. Being able to multitask in one context does NOT make you an automatic ace in others. As a waitress/manager I can run a busy section while maintaining a close eye on what’s happening in the other areas of the restaurant, including bar and kitchen. I can do this with my eyes closed. But I definitely don’t manage my time well in my personal life. And keeping my head above water when I’m only five dockets deep can be hard. At lunch time in any case.

During breakfast I am in charge of bread/toast (french toast included), waffles, certain sides that don’t need the oven or stovetop, anything with the word muesli or fruit in it, and oats. Breakfast is simple. On my side of the kitchen breakfast is almost all about the prep. Toast is surprisingly demanding to keep up with when busy but the logistics of body and mind are straightforward.

Lunch however, apart from bowls upon bowls of fries, consists mainly of putting salads together. Of course this is prep based too, but there are many components to each salad (the most using 11 different ingredients – if I haven’t forgotten any). All of them require at least one cooked element, and all of them include fresh herbs chopped to order. Chopping, mixing, frying, plating, dressing, nutting – these are all tasks that require many small movements and thus, much physical and mental coordination. I’m now at the point where I’m not forgetting to put key elements in salads… as much as I was before. And I’m tweaking my set up every day to work more efficiently. But it’s a process, and you can’t be taught how best to set your section up for yourself. You just gotta work that shit out as you go.

As well as service, there are other jobs that need doing throughout the day. Making sandwiches for the cabinet, hoping your head chef doesn’t shame you online when he doesn’t like your fillings, completing jobs on the prep list, leafing through the recipe folder multiple times, not finding what you need and having to wing it with someone else’s help (next blog: Consistency Is Key Except When It Isn’t), function catering (read: more sandwiches), and switching playlists on Spotify when we get sick of Rihanna and feel like throwing back to the early 2000s (KIDDING – I am never sick of Rihanna).

These jobs are done in between and during active service. If they’re not all finished before the end of lunch? Tough luck mother fucker – you just gon’ stay until they’re done, and no-one gives a shit if it takes you 90 minutes to make a batch of falafel while you’re crying on the inside. And the outside. Because onions.

When I first started in the kitchen everyone was asking how I was finding it, and people still are. I don’t really know what my answer to that is though. On the one hand it’s easy. In and of themselves, my duties are relatively straightforward. On the other hand, I finally  understand why it can take so…

Fucking…

Long…

…for a bread and fries docket to go out. Or why an easy breakfast order like fruit, bircher and oatmeal can take 20 minutes on a quiet morning. Because if you’re not looking ahead and managing your time with the utmost of efficiency ALWAYS, by the time you see the docket the people who think they’re ordering a quick little breakky have already been waiting 5, 10, 15 minutes and the new girl keeps fucking up their oatmeal.

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